A Divine Intersection: Behind the Scenes of “The Color of Rain”

As many already know, the Hallmark Channel is turning our story, “The Color of Rain” into a Hallmark movie in 2014. Filming took place in Vancouver, Canada last month and we’re excited to see the finished product (Will air sometime between December 2013 and June 2014). The experience of being on a movie set was a thrill for our family. We enjoyed sharing photos on Facebook and tweeting with movie stars. But there is a “less public” side of this story that needs to be shared. It’s a story of how one generous sacrifice can lead to a lifetime of memories.

It began more than a year ago when the movie producers, David Permut and Dan Paulson, agreed to let us auction off a “walk on” role or cameo appearance, in “The Color of Rain” at our annual fundraiser benefitting our nonprofit, New Day Foundation for Families. We were thrilled to have such a unique experience for our live auction. Not many auctions around here can offer that!

The night of our gala event, just prior to the live auction, Theresa Kull shared her cancer journey with nearly 300 foundation supporters and passionately explained how the New Day Foundation for Families blessed her family in their time of need.

“I read “The Color of Rain” just a few weeks before my cancer diagnosis, not knowing what my family was about to go through. After I was diagnosed, Michael and Gina came to our church to speak and I felt as if God was letting me know everything was going to be okay. That was the day I learned about the New Day Foundation. It was just a few weeks later we started receiving much needed help with our monthly expenses, and the foundation even threw a wonderful birthday party for two of my kids that summer. It was truly a gift from God.”

When it was time to auction off the walk on role in the film, bidder paddles went up, and up, and up! There was a couple, sitting not too far from Theresa, who was outbidding everyone in the room. I had never met the couple, but knew they were guests of our friends and sponsor, Mike and Joeanne Gauthier, from Save On Everything (the coupon books you get in the mail regularly)

When the bidding went over $3,000 things really started to get exciting! This unassuming couple seemed determined to have a cameo appearance in a Hallmark movie.

As the auctioneer was shouting, “Can I get $4,000? We’ve got $3,750 over here, can I get four?” Sure enough, the quiet couple raised their paddle and the crowd started cheering. With that, the winning bid was called and Vince and Lisa Asaro from Rochester we’re the winners. Or so we thought.

Just minutes after outbidding the room for this one of a kind auction item/experience, Vince and Lisa informed me that they wanted to give Theresa Kull the walk on role in the movie. They gave it away and walked away empty handed.

Through their Asaro-Guzzardo Family Foundation, Vince and Lisa out-bid everyone in the room in the name of generosity and kindness. But it didn’t stop there. They also offered to provide travel expenses for Theresa’s entire family to join her in Vancouver on the movie set, which meant another $2,500 on top of the $4,000 they so generously donated to the foundation.

In the aftermath of the event, I’ve come to believe the Asaro’s walked away perhaps the most fulfilled and grateful people of all. Certainly, Theresa and her family were blessed and grateful for the experience and the memories it created, but it’s compelling to recognize how a selfless act of kindness, a pouring out of self, will cause us to overflow with the riches of God’s love. Our souls seem to grow deeper roots and grow more robust fruit of spirit with each act of generosity.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

It’s not dollar amounts that matter. It’s about the spirit within us that compels us to share our resources, time, money, space, life, and our very hearts, with others in need.

Those blessed enough to afford a ticket to this beautiful party and auction at Meadow Brook aren’t attending for the purpose of walking away with something. We attend for the purpose of providing for those less fortunate in our community and burdened by the horrors of cancer.

It’s a party with a purpose hosted by a love your neighbor as yourself organization! Come, and walk away enriched and blessed!

To attend our events in September, please click on “Events” above or visit www.FoundationForFamilies.org.

 

The Kull Family with actress Lacey Chabert, star of "The Color of Rain" Hallmark movie

Theresa Kull, New Day Foundation recipient, in a scene with actor, Warren Christie, on the set of "The Color of Rain" Hallmark movie

Theresa Kull, New Day Foundation recipient, with the actress playing Colleen in "The Color of Rain"

Thirteen Years of Marriage, Seven Years Later…

Matt had a theory about how to tell if an album was good. “You have to listen to tracks three and seven,” he’d say. “It’s Biblical.” According to Matt’s theory, if tracks 3 and 7 are worth the time it takes to listen, the album is usually pretty good. It’s entirely subjective and unproven, but it worked for him. Matt would say, “In the Bible, three and seven are symbols of completeness or perfection” and that was it. That was Matt’s simple rationale for determining if an album was worth keeping. Given that he had over 1,200 CD’s at the time of his death, I seriously question how often he employed his own theory! Regardless, to this day, I still listen to track 3 and 7 of every album I buy or think about buying. This is the quirky stuff that sticks with me after seven years without him. These are the unique and precious qualities of Matt Kell that captivate my thoughts. These are my personal treasures, the little things, uniquely Matt, that I tuck away in my mind. But there are a host of treasures, many still undiscovered, that are more universal in nature.
I miss him. It hurts deep. He is with me every day. Our boys epitomize him. Our foundation memorializes him and ensures his beautiful legacy. And daily, I make new discoveries through every experience I shared and didn’t share with him. Glorious transformation! Beauty from ashes. This is why I write. This is why I speak publicly. Perhaps my clarity can be a catalyst for you.
A treasure is defined as “a concentration of riches, often one which is considered lost or forgotten until being rediscovered.” Relationships, especially marriages, are filled with buried treasures that can remain undiscovered, smothered in our desire to win, take one another for granted, and hold fast to our expectations. But when a relationship is rocked by tragedy, severed by death, it’s breathtaking and even suffocating to see what’s been hiding right before our eyes. Clarity rips through the veil of pride and fear. Why couldn’t I see it before cancer? Perhaps worse yet, even when I could see it, why didn’t I appreciate it?
My reflections and remembrances about my life with Matt before he died, and since, deeply influence every relationship I have today. Losing him has given me new eyes through which to see this beautiful life. It’s been a solitary and personal expedition (with Christ), yet I deeply desire to share my riches with as many people as will listen. My life with Matt was filled with many treasures, yet many were buried deep or even undiscovered until cancer and death unveiled them. I have regretted the circumstances that became the catalyst for transformation in me. I would have preferred that I had actively consumed myself with the pursuit of being a better wife and mother, sister and friend, before such tragedy entered my life, but sometimes it’s the people who think they know the most who often require the most refining! Through my experiences, I have gained some fresh insight. I do not pretend to have all the answers, but I am answering a call to get back to writing. It is my hope that I can offer nourishment to those who hunger for a better life, better marriage, better self. Christ fed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish. Anything is possible!
I hope you will join me as I spend the coming months seeking purpose in the every day, using my relationships and experiences, past and present, to draw upon. I hope you will engage here and comment freely. This is your blog, a community of friends who can call on one another for answers. I’m looking forward to what 2013 will bring to each of us.
Thanks for remembering Matt with me, celebrating his life and rejoicing in the birth of a Savior who brings clarity and purpose to every relationship and circumstance in our lives.

Coloring in Pontiac Michigan

I met a new friend today. Her name is Nadia. (Not really. You will discover in a moment that I’ve had to change the names in this article.)

Nadia is four and a half years old. Her mother, Talia, was born in Russia. The father is… well, nowhere to be found. He abused Talia to the point where she was hospitalized, ran away with Nadial to a women’s shelter. Ultimately they found their way to a place called Lighthouse in Pontiac, MI.

Although her mother is Russian, Nadia was born here and is an American citizen. After her mother fled her abusive relationship, she could not find work because she was not an American citizen. Soon Talia and Nadia had nowhere else to turn but Lighthouse. They arrived almost a year ago with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. They were given an “apartment” that is approximately 300 square feet. It has a kitchenette with 40 year old appliances and no table to eat at. There is a tiny bathroom and an 8′ x 9′ bedroom they share. Talia has decorated it all in pink for her little girl. The main room, where I met my new friends, is small, dark and has a few pieces of donated furniture. Nadia spends part of her day in the Montessori school on the lower level of the building. When she is done for the day she does her favorite thing in the world: coloring with crayons. She draws pictures of princesses, horses, green fields and smiling people. Dreams of a life she’s never known. Her mom tapes every one on the inside of the door. (The 40 year old refrigerator is too small.)

The staff at lighthouse helped Talia get her green card so she could work legally. One of their great strengths is removing barriers to people working. Talia has found a job and now saved enough to get a used car. She and Nadia intend to be at Lighthouse another year. In that time she will take classes to learn about budgeting and parenting. She will role play with staff members to help her interview to get an even better job. By the time she and her daughter leave Lighthouse they will be self-sufficient and on the path to a safe and productive life.

For those who are interested in the math on all of this…

The average cost for families like Talia’s to stay at Lighthouse is $13,000. This includes everything. Once they are out and on their own, a study done at the University of Michigan found that that $13,000 was “paid back” to the community on average within 18 months of families leaving Lighthouse. This is actual productivity and taxes paid and does not even include the dollars saved by taking the family off public assistance and welfare. Further, Lighthouse boasts a 91% success rate for families in their Lighthouse PATH program. This works.

On Wednesday night President Obama and Governor Romney are going to debate the important issues facing our country. And in the interest of full disclosure, I’m a conservative Christian who typically (but not always) votes Republican. When the conversation tomorrow night drifts to sound bites about “the 47%” and the “entitlement class”, etc., I hope that, no matter what your political leaning, you will not consider the conversation to be abstract or hypothetical. Because it isn’t. It isn’t about economic theories or political platforms. It isn’t about winning the news cycle or “appealing to the base.”

It’s about real people in real places.

It’s about a little girl coloring with crayons in a tiny apartment in Pontiac, Michigan and a mom who needed a little help to get her and her daughter on the right PATH. In a country of 308 million people there are many many, more like them. I pray there are Lighthouse-like programs in their area. And I pray we never turn our backs on these people and those in service to them.

James 1:26-27 sums it up well.

“Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

 

More about Lighthouse

The good folks at Lighthouse have extraordinary programs that are aggressively (and impressively) addressing poverty in America. Lighthouse Emergency Services offer emergency food, utility assistance, medical assistance and other crisis support. Lighthouse PATH provides women (typically single mothers who have been abused or have had other crisis) up to two full years of transitional housing in a safe and structured environment and an opportunity to rebuild their lives. Family counseling, daycare, child educational services, and other services are offered. Lighthouse Community Development literally is rebuilding impoverished areas with affordable housing units that clients can take ownership of and pride in. The Center for Working Families provides financial counseling, employment assistance, classes in how to get a job and coaching on how to use a family budget and live within means. They specifically treat root causes for poverty, removing barriers to people connecting with jobs, self-sufficiency and a hopeful life.

Outside Looking In

I recently had the privilege of writing an article that is featured in the March 2012 issue of P31 Woman magazine. Lysa TerKeurst is an New York Times bestselling author and speaker who helps everyday women live an adventure of faith. She is the founder and President of P31 Ministries and one of my personal favorite leaders in women’s ministry.

Outside Looking In

My article featured in P31 Woman Magazine, March 2012

Women can be an unsatisfied lot. We tend to see our environment as a never-ending work in progress. The house isn’t clean enough, the kids aren’t “getting it”, our bodies aren’t thin enough, and the worst part is our husbands aren’t doing a thing about it. What a disappointment considering they were put here to satisfy our every need! Right?

Of course not, but sometimes we accumulate little disappointments until we convince ourselves that our men owe us. If we allow this thinking to fester, it can taint every corner of our lives. Resentment becomes our default position. Our clenched jaw makes laughter and kissing nearly impossible. Intimacy suffers. Even time spent with friends is polluted by our attitude of injustice.

It takes effort to be cranky and unsatisfied with daily living. We readily sidestep life’s simple joys, and cling to bitterness, to-do lists, and selfish indignation. The tragedy is that we slowly lose sight of our marriages in the fog of our discontent. The goal is to stay connected to the girl inside us who flirts, plays and laughs with her husband, even though she’s sometimes buried under the tedium of life. Having the unique privilege of being happily married twice has taught me to remain connected to that carefree girl in me. I’ve discovered that she is a vital source of health in my marriage.

After thirteen years and the blessing of two sons, my first husband, Matt, died of cancer on Christmas Day, 2005. In the months leading up to his death we set aside the minutia that bogged us down in our marriage. It was remarkably easy to let go of my childish frustrations and brush off the chip I wore like a badge on my shoulder.

The process of losing my husband has taught me what it means to “shift”. When Matt died, the entire axis of my life shifted, forcing me to examine my faith, relationships and my own identity. The opportunity to look back through the rearview mirror of my life and see things I simply hadn’t noticed was profoundly humbling.

After I married my second husband, Michael, who was also a widower with three children, I saw the remarkable similarities between my two husbands and it became painfully obvious how much time I wasted being frustrated with Matt over things that I was never going to change about him.

Having two wonderful husbands has taught me a valuable lesson about men. They are not like us and never will be… praise God for that! This simple realization gave me freedom to stop beating my head against the brick wall I’d so carefully built. Instead, I started removing those bricks to give myself a new perspective.

It’s liberating to tear down the walls of resentment, anger, and whatever frustrations I’ve piled high, instead choosing to build up my husband. We’re all peculiar and needy. For every man-quirk that drives us crazy, women have at least one to match! Represent yourself and your marriage well (even on girl’s night out). Tear down your walls instead of your husband. After all, what you see in him is often a direct reflection of you.

I will admit that, even now, despite all I’ve lost, my perspective still slips and my inclination to become a frustrated wife and mother lurks in the shadows. After a long day in my Brady Bunch life, I’ll step out on the back patio to meet up with the source that guides me toward all forgiveness and gratitude, and helps me make the necessary shifts to keep moving forward through some of the most tedious, stressful and frustrating moments in my day. By staying connected to the Father, I find myself again and again.

On more than one occasion, my patio escape has given me a literal shift in perspective, a wide-angle view of my life from the outside of my home. Looking through windows that frame moving pictures of life happening, I’m keenly aware that these imperfect, ever-changing days will eventually become faded snapshots. I hope that when my husband and kids look back they will not see the burdens of life on me. I pray they will see me smiling in every shot, surrounded by the grace of a thousand sacrifices.

 

 

Selfishly Giving

I did a selfish thing today. It felt so good and I smiled so big that when I walked into basketball practice last night, two people asked me what was up. It was something I hope you do for yourself soon and I want to tell you about it… First though, let me tell you about my new friend, Melissa.

Melissa’s husband is gravely ill. Riddled with cancer, he also is in renal failure and has advanced diabetes. Late last week, he suffered a heart attack – something the doctors attribute to the relentless assaults on his body. Melissa’s daughter is keeping up a strong front as she goes to school each day. She wants to feel normal, like the other kids in her class. That is hard though, not just because her daddy is very sick, but also because now her mom is falling behind on the bills too. The car needed repairs last month and, with all of the trips back and forth to the hospital (which, because they live in a very rural area, is a LONG way from home) she went through a lot of money. The rent was late. The car payments were three months late. Last Saturday, Melissa called and told us her electricity was shut off.

What selfish thing I did today…? I got to call Melissa and tell her not to worry about these financial things right now.

After receiving her application and other documents in the mail, the New Day Foundation for Families (created in honor of Matt Kell and Cathy Spehn) has stepped in. The first phone call went to the electric company. Within a few hours the power went back on at their home. Next, we caught the family up on their car payments and rent. We will be walking along side this family for the next several months to get them back on solid ground financially and to make sure that their daughter understands that she’s not alone and that God has a plan for her.

It is important to remember though, this isn’t “move that bus!” time at Melissa’s house. This isn’t time for parties and Disney vacations… She still has to turn around and deal with a husband who is dying and a little girl who doesn’t understand. But for today, for now, they can take care of each other while we take care of the little stuff like the bills.

A long time ago, I was a cynic out on the rocks of Newport Beach, CA, thinking that crashing surf and beautiful sunsets were all I needed to feel close to God. I was wrong. I was missing the good stuff. The parts of life where we connect with one another. Where we take each other’s hands and hearts and walk together.

My new friend Melissa cried today on the phone as she heard this news. I told her I was sorry for making her cry. She said, “These are the first happy tears I’ve shed in a long while.”

I can’t tell you what it feels like to do this work.

I am relentlessly blessed.

_______________________________________________________

To those who continue to support The New Day Foundation… Thank you.

To join them, visit the web site below.

www.FoundationForFamilies.com


Christina

“A physically nondescript young nurse in her twenties, she moved with the confidence of a veteran who knew exactly what she was doing. It was her voice, though, that stood out the most. Gentle and firm, it was oddly familiar, and provided surprising comfort. It had a quality that put me at ease the moment I heard it; like a favorite song from a long time ago.” (from The Color of Rain)

When my wife Cathy lay dying in a gray and lifeless room at Beaumont Hospital in Michigan, I stood at her bedside, helpless. At that moment an angel appeared, in the form of a nurse. She told us to call her Christina. In an instant we felt comforted. Recognizing that I needed to be a part of Cathy’s care, what little there was left, she simply allowed me to be. She called us by our first names. She stepped in when an insulate doctor flaunted his ignorance. In the midst of cancer’s horrific assault, she brought gentleness into the room. It was simply amazing.

Christina went off her shift just a few hours before Cathy passed. I asked a nurse to write her name for me on a scratch piece of paper as I had the notion of sending her something as a thank you. I never did. All I had was a name on a piece of paper. No address, no phone number. So I took the piece of paper and put it under the clear cover on my desk. I see it every day. For 5 years, 8 months and 20 days now, I have looked at her name and said a small prayer; that she is still in nursing, caring for others and that somehow, in some way, she might know what she meant to me.

Last week a friend, Kay, who also is the mother of a former basketball player of mine sent me an email. She congratulated me on the book. She also said this:

“I have worked at RO Beaumont as a nurse for 32 years. In my current administrative role, I felt a calling, need, desire (and have the means and opportunity – gee, I’m thinking divine intervention here)…..to find Nurse Christina.  She is, as you described, the way a nurse should be.  The way, we want all nurses, especially Beaumont nurses, to be.  With the help of 3 nursing managers (all of whom I told, ‘just read chapter 21 and call me back’), we found Christina.”

Yesterday I was invited to Beaumont Hospital to speak at a meeting of several hundred staff members, including the President of the hospital. I told them that, whether or not they were successful at fixing the various illnesses they treat, they always have the opportunity to soften hearts and touch souls.

When I was done, Christina was brought up to the stage where we hugged for a very long time. She was honored by her peers as an example of how all nurses should be.

I had the chance to speak with Christina afterwards for quite a while. She told me that she remembered Cathy and remembered leaving the shift that day wondering if she had done enough. I told her about that little slip of paper on my desk.

My friend Kay, the hospital administrator, wrote me this morning, thanking me for coming. She tells me that this story will impact how care is given at the hospital. She also said that Christina’s life has been changed.

Later tonight I will go to practice with my new team and forge all new relationships with new guys – and their families. I love the wins and losses, the excitement of Friday nights, the timeout huddles and the last second buzzer beaters. But that’s not why I coach. I coach because it connects me. To enthusiastic athletes and their families. To smart and dedicated coaches. And to a community of people who in countless ways, take care of each other. I coached Kay’s son years ago. He was one of the good ones. Funny, smart, respectful. (And a wicked pro-hop finish when he drove into the lane!) Now, years later, his mom connects to me again through circumstances beyond comprehension and provides me with a moment for which I will never be able to thank her sufficiently.

I am so thankful for these connections. They are woven into the fabric of my life and create an inspired pattern of unexpected grace. And I am humbled by it all.

________________________________

By the way…

The little slip of paper is still on my desk. Today is 5 years, 8 months and 21 days. I have all new prayers for my friend Christina. She told me that she now is married to a man named Dan. And they have two little boys. Matt and Drew.

Thankful For Loss

Below is the first post I ever submitted to the Huffington Post. To my surprise, it was rather controversial. I’d love to know what you think.

A little insider info about the title. When I submitted the article, I asked the editor for an opinion about whether or not to use a question mark at the end of the title “Thankful for Loss? Or, Thankful for Loss.” My question was never answered and the title was printed as submitted. I thought this was funny! Now that I’ve seen the responses to the article, I know what the title should have been.

At the end of the article I have attached a link that will allow you read the nearly 150 comments online about this article. I’d love to know what you think here, so please chime in!

 

THANKFUL FOR LOSS (Huffington Post Religion) by Gina Kell Spehn

Whenever an actor, athlete or musician glorifies God in the wake of their victory cynicism rears its ugly head with the collective eye roll of skeptics everywhere. They love to point out that Christians never seem to give thanks to God when we lose.

Or do we?

My husband, Michael and I have learned that being thankful in our losses is not only possible but also necessary. The deaths of our first spouses to cancer taught us what it truly means to be thankful for the blessings found not only in the victories this life offers but also the losses.

When my first husband Matt was diagnosed with cancer he wasn’t triumphantly praising God for his diagnosis. He was, however, quietly reflecting gratitude for everything in his life that wasn’t cancer. I watched Matt, a dying man, celebrate life and serve others in the midst of his suffering. There is perhaps nothing more humbling. He also gave cynics something new to consider when he called his cancer battle a “win-win” situation. He believed that a cure is a win and heaven is a win.

With a young family and a successful career it was easy to admire Matt’s life from a distance. Yet, oddly, even after he was facing a terminal diagnosis many of us closest to him found ourselves admiring him more than ever before, but not for the reasons one might think.

Matt’s courage wasn’t found in his determination to beat cancer (though he was certainly determined to do just that), rather, it was his unwavering commitment to trust in the unseen, eternal promises of a God who could use even a devastating, evil disease like cancer for good purposes.

Let the world take note, no red carpet or trophy can compare to a life of genuine gratitude and faith.

Certainly cancer is not enviable, but for Matt to believe there is victory in cancer is remarkable. It is undoubtedly a gift when a dying man learns to appreciate his life and resolve to fight for it, but Matt also recognized and believed that cancer, through him, could be used for triumphant purposes as well. He wrote:

“As a believer, the prospects of untimely death should not break me. I can be a better witness through death at age 35 than I could ever be living a blessed life into my 80′s. In a perverse way, dying with grace, dignity and hope and joy is a great gift.”

God let’s nothing go to waste. If we are open to receiving his grace, he will use anything for his purposes. Our job is to be aware of God’s presence in all circumstances, even suffering and loss.

Imagine an athlete or movie star using a defeat (nowhere comparable to death) as a platform for helping others or giving thanks. Seems contrary to our culture to esteem a loser, yet life’s greatest lessons are often born out of losses.

Growing up I recall overhearing adults talk about the alcoholic who hit rock bottom or the criminal who got caught and suddenly they found Jesus. They were considered weak and in need of the “Jesus crutch.” At the time I bought into it. However, I’ve since come to know Jesus. He specializes in meeting people in their place of need. The drunks, criminals, diseased and lonely are all alike to him. When you strike out on three pitches, or “the Oscar goes to…” someone else, or God forbid, a doctor in a white lab coat calls you in to a 10 x 10 room to give you that evil diagnosis… no matter what dark place we find ourselves, Jesus brings the light with the presence of his grace and mercy.

I believe it was fitting that Matt died on Christmas Day, the most celebrated day of the year. It’s a beautiful metaphor for his life and a constant reminder that despite our losses, we must simultaneously celebrate the life we are given and receive the gifts of faith that are being delivered to us, even in our darkest hours.

The spotlights of this world fade and award winning moments pass, but a life focused on the eternal promises of God is a life fulfilled, even in cancer; even in our losses; even in death.

To read the Huff Post comments, please click HERE. Be sure to scroll down to the bottom of the page to read the comments.

A Divine Meeting Part2

Where do I even begin?
We knew things were ‘meant to be’ before we left for the airport last Friday morning, but nothing could have prepared us for the blessings we experienced all weekend long. It went by so fast, but not one minute was wasted, we spent every single waking one of them together with our donor family!

Thursday night, Mike, Tommy and I all went to bed too late, slept restlessly and awoke before ‘it was time’. Tommy came bounding in to our room around 5:30am, asking, “is it time, is it time…is it time to go yet!?” Mike and I both agreed that he woke up earlier and more excited than he did on Christmas! Nerves and emotions were high and off we went.

We made all of our airline connections on time and landed in Minneapolis safely. Once in the taxi, I texted our donor mom, Krista and told her we were on the way! She texted back that the four of them were anxiously waiting in the hotel boardroom, where we planned to meet, and couldn’t believe it was almost time! Tommy looked at me and asked, “Are they there?” I told him, “Yes, they are. They’re waiting for us and in ten minutes we’ll be with them!”

He paused and said, “Really? Wow, Mom…I haven’t been this excited since I heard I might be getting a new heart. I want to walk in the room first, ok?”

I fought back the tears and my stomach was in knots. We arrived at the hotel, and as Tommy pushed the ‘up’ button on the elevator, I sent Krista a text that told her we were close. We walked off, turned left, left again and there we were standing before the closed doors that said Boardroom 3. I opened the door, letting Tommy walk in first, and he walked right up to Krista. She knelt down and hugged him tightly with tears streaming down her face.

She reassured Tommy, “It’s okay. These are happy tears.”

Everyone introduced each other. There were lots of hugs, tears, and deep breaths. We then poured over some beautiful photo keepsake books of Audrey.

Our boys immediately hit it off with Audrey’s brothers (Casey, 20 and Chazz, 15). Soon it was time to head to the ballpark. What a night! We started out at batting practice where Tommy was able to reconnect with his friend, Tiger’s third baseman, Brandon Inge. As always, Brandon was beyond kind. He visited with Tommy, came over to meet our donor family, signed baseballs for all the kids and fulfilled Tommy’s request to sign a ball that read: “Thank you for Tommy’s Heart”. Again… tears.

Later we were all invited to be a part of the pre-game ceremony on the field to promote organ donation, while a moving summary of our story was told, as we stood together on the field, just a few hours after meeting for the first time. Everyone had a great time at the game and stayed long after it was over (Tigers won, by the way!).

The next morning we met for breakfast, did some interviews for the WDIV news story (that will air soon… we’ll let you know) and the kids got to do what they’d been begging to do since we arrived… swim in the hotel pool! Later we all went to the Mall of America and had various opportunities throughout the day to get to know more about one another, Audrey and our lives. It was so special, and helped to bring together so many pieces of the “puzzle” for both of us. We quickly learned how selfless and what big hearts our donor family have. We were given the opportunity to thank them face to face and try to put words to our gratitude for their gift to Tommy and our family. In return they thanked us for our openness and willingness to meet them and provide some healing for their deep loss.

We ended our day by all having dinner together at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Tommy and Chazz decided (after seeing the staff do birthday ‘parades’ with free desserts and wondering how they could get some to come our way), that they would tell the waiter about it being Audrey’s birthday the next day. Ten minutes later the restaurant manager came to our table with tears in his eyes and his hand over his heart. He told us he’d never heard such a story and would be right over with his singing staff!

Chazz and Tommy acted like it was no big deal and said, “We just told him our story and he started crying, but we’re getting dessert!”

The next thing we knew, eight waiters & waitresses came out clapping and singing. Tommy and everyone joined in the fun. Afterwards, a special little dessert was presented to Krista, with a hug from Tommy.

Throughout the weekend we talked a lot about Audrey. Krista, Sean and the boys noted many things about Tommy that reminded them of their outgoing, fun-loving, “social butterfly” (as they often referred to Audrey). Krista told me on Saturday that butterflies have an extra special place in her heart now, and when she occasionally sees one, it feels like getting a little ‘hug’ from God and Audrey (usually just when she needs it most).

Before we left the hotel to head to the airport, Tommy told Krista, Sean and the boys that they could listen to his/Audrey’s heart if they wanted. They did, and that too, was a very special moment.

Tommy really connected to Krista, Sean and the boys. They were holding hands, giving high fives, hugs, goofing around and just having fun. They decided to actually see us off at the airport. As we were closing in on our departure time, Tommy began to get upset anticipating saying our goodbyes. He told me he didn’t want to leave and asked when or if we would get to see each other again. I assured him we would see them again and stay in close touch. Once inside the terminal, we sat down with them and talked for a few more minutes.

Suddenly, Sean sat up and pointed off in the distance a bit and said, “Hey! Look! Over there… See it? It’s a butterfly!”

Krista and I leaped up, took a few steps in that direction, and sure enough, there it was. A vibrant butterfly was fluttering around inside the airport under the signs that read: Arrivals/Departures. I don’t know about you, but I don’t see butterflies that often and I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen one on the inside of an airport!

Tears filled our eyes and I put my arm around Krista and said, “Wow, there’s another gift this weekend. Something special – straight from God and Audrey. And on her birthday too!”

It was then time to say ‘goodbye’ and give our final hugs. With many of us in tears, we waved, looking behind us the whole way up the escalator until we could no longer see them.

A divine meeting, indeed. Blessings that words cannot describe and all of it a result of having open hearts. Seeing God’s hand at work this close up, is truly remarkable. Thank you for allowing us to share it with you.

A Divine Meeting

Each new day I am challenged to open my mind and my heart to what God has planned for me. Fear dominates a lot of my waking moments. Yet I remind myself to be still… and open my heart to God’s grace.

A little over two years ago, two families from different states were enduring life threatening hardships with their children that were beyond comprehension. Our 8 year old, Tommy was entering his 13th month on the heart transplant waiting list and his native heart was in very bad shape. He had a med bag attached to him 24/7 which was keeping him ‘going’ while he waited and endured many negative side effects of congestive heart failure everyday. Hope was fading, but still present as we prayed for our miracle.

750 miles away, 5 year old Audrey was in the hospital for surgery and later developed a complication of meningitis which could not be reversed. Her family was given the very difficult news and then asked if they would consider donating her organs to save other lives. In those dark hours, they chose to say ‘yes’, and the amazing process of organ donation began in Michigan and in Minnesota.

Words could never express our gratitude for this life-saving gift Tommy received. I attempted writing our donor family a letter several times in late 2009. Finally it was sent around Christmas time, along with a card at the 1 year mark telling them they were in our thoughts and prayers. Exactly one year ago we received another ‘gift’ in the mail,…a reply letter from Tommy’s donor family. This was emotional to read but so wonderful to learn about Audrey & their family. Over the last year, Audrey’s mom, Krista and I have been emailing and connecting, little by little. We both knew we wanted to meet someday (& Tommy did too). Most importantly, I believe it’s part of God’s plan for us to meet, and He is orchestrating every detail (with Audrey by His side, I’m sure).

The sequence of events that have led up to meeting this weekend are, in my opinion, divine. In the midst of all the ‘what ifs?’ or ‘should we’s?’ that have come to my mind, piece by piece it has become pretty clear that God has His hand directly in this part of the journey too. I will briefly re-count it…

It started by selecting a date & the weekend of August 26th looked feasible on our summer calendar. When I asked Krista if that was a good date for them, she told me it’s the weekend of Audrey’s birthday. This Sunday, August 28th, Audrey would have turned 8 years old. She then went on to say that she couldn’t think of a better way to spend that day then by meeting the family and the little boy that received their daughter’s heart. Wow. Next, we decided that we would like to do something fun with our kids and Audrey’s older brothers. Of course, my boys love baseball and immediately suggested a visit to Target Field to see the Minnesota Twins play. When I looked on the schedule I was shocked to see that the Detroit Tigers would be in town playing the Twins August 26-28. Really? Okay… Lastly, we needed to get tickets to a game and through some special connections I was asked if we would be willing to attend Friday nights game as it ‘just so happens to be’ their organ donation promotion game. Oh…okay…seriously?!

In addition, for those of you who know about Tommy’s special gift and connection to Detroit Tigers’, Brandon Inge, (who visited him in the hospital 2 weeks after transplant & asked Tommy to sign his arm & then went on to hit a homerun for him in that nights game), well Tommy was a little bummed that he wouldn’t be in Minneapolis this weekend because he was sent down to the minor league. However, we found out last Friday that Brandon Inge ‘just so happened’ to get moved back up to the Tigers and will now be in Minneapolis this weekend. Hmmmm.

Coincidences? Stars aligning? Signs?

I say, a “God thing”. A rather Divine Meeting. And maybe, just maybe… the result of having, ‘open hearts’?

The story and the journey continues….

The Value of a Gift

Two nights ago, I posted this message on Facebook at 2:20AM:

I have to be up in three hours but my mind has been racing about a missing piece of jewelry that has profound sentimental value. I have racked my brain. Prayed. Reviewed my every step. Its been missing for over a week. After 90 minutes in bed, frustrated that I could not sleep, I just got up and went to straight to the bathroom sink to check the drain. I found my necklace. So happy. And goodnight!

The next day I had 35 “likes” and 8 comments. My thoughts on Facebook, usually don’t garner that kind of response, so it got me thinking about the value of a gift.

The necklace was given to me by Matt (for those who don’t know, Matt Kell was my first husband who died of cancer 12/25/05), and the following letter is what gives this simple piece of jewelry its value:

October 9, 2005

Peach:

This is truly a gift from my heart. Promise me that you’ll wear it (at least) every Sunday to:

  • Remember what Christ did for you
  • Remember the faith is the under girding of our marriage
  • Remember me

I am so blessed by the Lord to have you sent to me. You have enriched my life in innumerable ways. Your tireless love for me and the kids is inspirational and a tremendous witness to your faith. The way the Holy Spirit has lit up your spiritual life is apparent to everyone. It fills me with joy to see that in you and it helps to confirm my faith. I can’t express how important that has been to me when I am facing an uncertain future.

This gift is a small (?) way of thanking you for putting up with me, sick or healthy and for being a tremendous witness in the midst of hardship and suffering.

Lord willing, I hope to have the chance to get you a gift for our 14th anniversary. If I do, I promise it won’t be this nice. :-)

I love you so much it hurts (in my back and my abdomen mostly).

Matt

During the week the necklace was missing, I struggled with my longing to find the necklace and the possibility of having to simply let it go. I was focused on this missing “thing” to the point of distraction, and then I became distracted by the fact that I was so focused on a missing object.

Sentimental value is defined as the value of an article in terms of its sentimental associations for a particular person. The cost of the necklace is not the same as the value. My heart ached at the thought of losing it and there is no price tag for that.

Stick with me here, because my “sentimental value” response to my missing necklace really got me thinking about the value of relationships…

Losing the cross necklace felt like losing Matt just a little bit more. But, how can you lose someone who has already been dead for nearly 6 years? In literal terms, you can’t. The cross necklace is a means of remembering Matt and symbolic of the value of his place in my life. Somehow, without it, it seems like he slips away from me just a little more. I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to let him slip.

Can the same can be said for the relationships we have with the living? So often, we lose people who are right in front of us. We let our wedding rings symbolically lose their luster. Relationships slip down the drain because we forget to regard each other, even though we live together every day. We easily diminish the value of people in our life.

My missing necklace made me realize the value of the present moment with the people we love. Pulling a lost relationship out of the drain will likely take more than a week and a few sleepless nights. With prayer and sacrifice, do whatever it takes to find, rediscover, or polish up your lost relationships. Your spouse, brother, sister, friend… aren’t these worth much more than a piece of jewelry?

I’m certain that my personal relief, and the celebratory response I received to finding my beautiful necklace, can’t compare to the redeeming joy of a restored relationship!